Before sled dog racing became a formal sport, sled dogs were bred and used by native people of the polar regions of the world. They were used in their everyday lives for survival in harsh climates, particularly for transportation and work.
Sled dog racing began as a formal sport with the first All-Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1908. Rules for the races were established, and they provided a good diversion to the difficult living conditions of the area.
In the 1920's, airplanes began to replace sled dog teams for transportation, freight hauling, and mail delivery.
In 1925, sled dogs proved that they were invaluable during the "Great Race of Mercy to Nome." Nome, Alaska was experiencing an outbreak of diphtheria that threatened to become a fatal epidemic. The antitoxin serum needed to be relayed from Nenana, Alaska to Nome, Alaska.
Twenty drivers and more than 100 dogs were recruited for a sled dog run to deliver the serum. Planes could not be used due to extreme cold and fearing if the plane crashed, the serum would be lost.
The sled dog drive was a success, the serum was delivered and lives were saved. The drive covered 674 miles in less than five and a half days.
This drive, along with the use of the Iditarod trail, is the origin of the well known Iditarod sled dog race.